In 1969, father-son inventors Wilbert and Robert Gore stumbled upon a way to super-stretch heated polytetrafluoroethylene (aka Teflon) to create a new, porous fibre they called ePTFE. Over the following decade, they patented processes to produce this new material, and to bond it to textiles. They called it Gore-Tex, and since then, their invention has made fishing and hunting on soggy days a lot more tolerable.
Prior to Gore-Tex, foul-weather gear ranged from mediocre to terrible. Waxed cotton, invented in the early 1900s and still used in garments such as upland field jackets, is tough and quite waterproof. It’s also heavy and stiff, however. Prior to waxed cotton, Mackintosh coats featured natural materials bonded with rubber, while in the 1950s, cheap latex rainwear arrived on the scene. These cumbersome garments kept water out entirely, but they also trapped perspiration inside, making them unsuitable for vigorous activity. Not so with Gore-Tex.
A delicate, tissue-thin membrane with tiny pores, Gore-Tex lets water vapour pass through, but not water droplets. That makes it both breathable and waterproof, so that moisture generated from body heat can escape, while the rain stays out. The membrane is then bonded to an inner lining fabric, as well as a tougher outer layer treated with durable water repellent.
It’s not perfect—over time, the outer fabric can degrade and get waterlogged as the repellent wears off. And these days, there are other materials available that also wick and repel moisture. Still, Gore-Tex remains worlds ahead of anything that came before it.
Weatherproof, light, flexible and comfortable enough to wear all day long, Gore-Tex apparel allows us to stay outdoors in foul weather, opening up all the more opportunities to keep on fishing and hunting. But if you’re not wearing outerwear made of Gore-Tex or similar modern materials, well, let’s just say you don’t know what you’re missing.
And next time you catch a mess of fish on a rainy day, remember that it’s all possible because of a couple of guys goofing around with Teflon rods.